On December 10 2016, Fueling U.S. Forward and Reaching America partnered with the City of Richmond and Radio One to sponsor a toy drive and holiday concert at the Trinity Family Life Center in Richmond, Va. The event had several Grammy-level gospel recording artists such as VaShawn Mitchell and Charles Jenkins, and a panel discussion on the role energy plays in their everyday life, including the holidays.
At the end of the concert, four people were randomly picked to have their most recent electric bill paid up to $250.
The majority of attendees at this event were black. It was held at a black church, had black gospel artists and was advertised through Radio One, a network with a large black listener base.
Don't think for a moment that this was a coincidence.
The Koch brothers have come up with a new approach to advancing a fossil fuel agenda. They're using low-income and minority communities to promote coal, oil and natural gas.
For more than 30 years, Charles and David Koch have provided tens of millions of dollars to groups that deny climate change and derail science-based policies that would limit carbon emissions.
In the spring of 2016, Koch launched a new PR campaign – Fueling U.S. Forward – telling low-income families that oil and natural gas is the best way out of poverty. Fueling U.S. Forward is now a nonprofit organization “dedicated to educating the public about the value and potential of American energy.” It has a $10 million-a-year campaign budget that is funded by Koch Industries.
It's the same marketing tactics and argument used by tobacco lobbyists: stricter regulations on goods would disproportionately affect low-income areas.
This time, the argument is that wealthy individuals that subsidize electric vehicles and install solar panels on their homes contribute to rising gas prices. Somehow efforts to promote clean energy and build a green economy deprives taxpayers.
Fueling U.S. Forward has hosted events aimed at getting the support of black voters, including: presenting scholarships to local high school students at a Baptist church in North Carolina and sponsoring the National Political Convention, a conference hosted by the National Policy Alliance (NPA) – a network that brings together African-American political groups.
Linda Haithcox, NPA’s executive director, said their aim is to stand up for poor and underserved communities, and that NPA’s position on energy policy hasn't changed even though they received funding from Koch Industries and other energy groups.
Unfortunately, you cannot stand up for black communities while also taking money from companies that profit from poisoning the same people.
If the NPA and other black political groups want equitable access to clean energy sources for all consumers, then it must divest from companies that promote cheap and dirty energy. Poor people and communities of color pay the price with their health for the Koch brothers and other oil and petrochemical magnates to become wealthy. Utility and energy companies pollute the air we breathe and water we drink to keep the price of energy low.
The U.S. is still a fossil fuel-based economy, yet, families already struggle with transportation costs and paying their electric bill. What exactly do black communities have to gain by publicly supporting a fossil fuel agenda? Respiratory illnesses, cancer, heart disease, birth defects and high hospital bills?
Richmond continues to reign as one of the nation’s top asthma capitals, even taking the top spot in 2010, 2011 and 2014. Pollution, particulates and poverty are the biggest offenders.
The wealthiest people in the world have the biggest carbon footprint, but the poorest are the most vulnerable.
With a governor’s race underway this year, let’s prioritize the environmental injustices happening in our own backyards. Don’t be fooled by political leaders and energy companies that say they’re keeping energy prices low for us. They’re doing it for themselves to make a profit.
There is a whitewashing in the environmental movement, where white people are framed as being the most concerned about the environment.
But a number of polls show that Asian, Latino and black communities have strong environmental values and even show more support for climate issues than whites.
American Indians are currently leading the biggest environmental activism movement with their campaign to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
So why is it that environmental justice issues are not a regular part of the national conversation?
When discussing climate change, environmentalists talk about melting ice caps, an increase in natural disasters, protecting animal species and natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef dying off.
But how often do we talk about the millions of Americans that live near a coal power plant? What about the high asthma rate of black Americans in cities because of poor air quality? Are these public health issues part of the conversation?
Environmental issues involve people fighting for access to clean water, green spaces and safe housing.
The reality is that most factories, warehouses, garbage incinerators, landfills, hazardous waste treatment facilities and disposal plants are overwhelmingly located and built in poor, non-white communities.
Low-income and communities of color are most impacted by toxic waste, pollution and urban decay. Families are forced to live in close proximity to hazardous environments because these areas are seen as sacrifice zones for big polluters.
Vulnerable populations live at the intersection of pollution, power and environmental policy, and they continue to lose. These communities lose because the balance of power is tipped towards the wealthy.
This is environmental racism.
Environmental racism is systemic. It is the result of poverty, redlining, housing discrimination and segregation that has relegated black and brown communities to some of the most dilapidated environments.
It explains the Flint, Michigan water crisis and why East Chicago residents were poisoned for 30 years before being informed of the health risks of living on an old lead smelter.
This form of racism explains why these stories aren’t covered by mainstream media outlets and why there is no public outrage over people of color being poisoned by industrial waste for generations.
There is a disconnection between who publicly cares about environmental issues and the face of people taking action on the ground.
The Navajo Nation has been fighting for years for uranium mining companies to clean up abandoned mines. You can go to Detroit, Compton, Milwaukee and the Bronx and find black leaders running community gardens and cleanup efforts. Latino communities fought to close down a lead-acid battery smelter that spewed toxic air pollution for decades in Los Angeles neighborhoods.
It is local residents that attend meetings with city officials, planners and the EPA to fight routine industrial polluters. These groups don’t always have access to the same resources and platform as mainstream organizations, but they are still environmentalists.
There's an issue with diversity within the mainstream environmental movement, where people of color, various socio-economic classes and religious groups are not being engaged by mainstream groups that are predominantly led by middle class and upper-middle class, white liberals.
Mainstream organizations can leverage their power to help environmental justice groups secure funding to build healthy communities. They can help cultivate youth from different segments through an internship pipeline to pursue a career in urban forestry, ecology, environmental resource management, soil sciences and urban planning.
A more diverse group of voices will create a stronger movement. Environmental justice cannot be an afterthought to national parks, endangered species and global climate change. It must be integrated into our policy agendas.
We cannot afford to sugarcoat the demographic of people who are being displaced from their homes because of natural disasters. We need to talk about the number of children who have lead poisoning and the policies that made it happen. We need to stop talking in the abstract and tell the stories of people whose families are being poisoned by waste and decay.
Devote more space in your newsletters and fundraising emails to environmental injustices happening to our own citizens.
Environmental issues are civil rights issues. Those with political power are able to sway environmental decisions. Let's create a path for marginalized voices to also have a national platform.
On February 2, Maryland lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to boost the state’s renewable energy standards and override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of the Clean Energy Jobs Act. The bill will increase the requirements for customers to receive 25 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2020; up from the current goal of 20 percent by 2022.
It’s being hailed by environmental advocates as a state legislative victory against an anti-environmental agenda of President Trump.
The new measure will require utility companies to buy more energy from wind turbines and solar panels to meet the new demands.
Hogan vetoed the legislation calling it a “sunshine tax” and claimed it would be an additional burden on utility rate-payers. Republicans also object to the costs that will be passed onto customers.
However, the State Department of Legislative Services estimates that consumers may only pay between $.48 or $1.45 more per month with the new requirements.
Maryland currently has seven coal-burning power plants that contribute to the state’s failing air quality grades for ozone pollution by the American Lung Association. Nearly three-quarters of Marylanders live in areas that have a ‘D’ or ‘F’ in air quality.
The 25 percent increase is the equivalent of taking more than 563,000 passenger vehicles off the road every year.
Democrats believe this bill will boost the renewable energy industry in the state and create more jobs, in addition to reducing carbon emissions and air pollution. Approximately 4,600 direct jobs are expected to be created from the 25 percent increase in clean energy standards.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, there are more than 183 solar companies in Maryland that employs more than 4,200 people. These companies provide an array of products and services ranging from installations and manufacturing to financing and project development.
Del. Cheryl Glenn (D – Baltimore) said that companies are now looking to invest in manufacturing components for wind energy at the former Sparrows Point steel mill, an opportunity to generate more jobs for the community.
The Clean Energy Jobs Act is part of Maryland’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) which requires electricity supplies to “procure a minimum portion of their electric retail sales by eligible renewable energy sources.” This is part of an ongoing effort to sustain the growth of the renewable industry compared to other states.
The Clean Energy Jobs Act will go into effect in early March.
What happened in East Chicago?
The national attention Flint received may have sparked action to finally be taken in East Chicago, Indiana but there are thousands of low-income communities in the U.S. that are being poisoned because of environmental racism.
East Chicago – a predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhood – is one of those cities.
In July 2016, nearly 1,200 residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago received a letter from the mayor ordering them to temporarily relocate because of high levels of lead and arsenic in the soil.
Other residents of Calumet received a notice from the EPA stating how high the lead and arsenic levels were around their homes. This was based on samples taken in December 2014.
That’s right. They were informed almost two years later.
According to EPA documentation, lead levels exceeded 5,000 parts per million when the standard level allowed is 400 parts per million.
The most contaminated yards showed lead levels 227 times above the allowable limit. Arsenic levels were 135 times above its limit.
By September 1, Mayor Anthony Copeland had informed residents they were being given 60 days to find a new home as the public housing complex would be demolished. This sent hundreds of low-income families scrambling to find a place to live in an area with a limited availability of affordable housing.
Many families were required to pay for their relocation costs out of pocket before voucher and rent reimbursement.
After 60 days nearly passed, only 29 of 332 families had found alternative housing. HUD had to extend its deadline to ensure all eligible residents had access to safe housing and relocation benefits.
Today, East Chicago is grappling with dislocation, health concerns and cleanup efforts.
670 children lived in that housing complex. By the end of summer 2016, city officials confirmed that 33 children younger than 7 years old had excessive lead in their bloodstream. With lead screenings still ongoing, it’s expected that more kids have been poisoned.
The EPA has found elevated levels of lead in drinking water in 18 of the 43 homes tested in a pilot study to determine if the contaminated soil caused lead in pipes to enter the water supply. The Northwest Indiana Times is reporting that up to 90 percent of homes in East Chicago have lead in their water lines.
Members from various community groups have now organized into the East Chicago Calumet Coalition to communicate needs and questions to the EPA. They are also working with lawmakers to draft legislation that provides financial assistance to aid in cleanup and testing, the school district and residents that were forced to relocate; including homeowners that need to sell their houses.
Many are wondering how government agencies let this happen and why action wasn’t taken sooner.
Brace yourselves. A full-out war on the environment is percolating and we must prepare for the battles we will fight during the next four years, and beyond.
Two weeks ago, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R – UT) introduced a bill that would sell off 3.3 million acres of public lands in 10 western states because those lands served “no purpose for taxpayers.” Chaffetz withdrew the bill after facing a major backlash from constituents, outdoor groups and conservation organizations
Last week, Congress voted to repeal the Stream Protection Rule and Obama’s rule on methane emissions.
On Friday, Representative Matt Gaetz (R- FL) introduced a bill to abolish the EPA by the end of 2018 and has garnered support from a trio Republicans who are co-sponsoring the bill: Thomas Massie (R – KY), Steven Palazzo (R – MS) and Barry Loudermilk (R – GA).
The bill has no text, but the logic behind the legislation once again has to do with overregulation and overreach of the federal government. Gaetz is hoping for a smooth transition of oversight and regulations from the federal government to individual states.
In an email obtained by The Huffington Post, Gaetz wrote, “Our small businesses cannot afford to cover the costs associated with compliance, too often leading to closed doors and unemployed Americans. It is time to take back our legislative power from the EPA and abolish it permanently.”
Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush tried to roll back many of the EPA’s rules and were often challenged by the courts and expert environmental litigators. That’s because EPA regulations cannot be easily rescinded. Rescinding rules is a lengthy process that involves a period of public comment and litigation that starts at the lower courts that can take years to get to the Supreme Court.
Terminating the EPA would violate many laws that are tied to the agency enforcing them and is not the most feasible, or legal, option for the Trump administration. He would need the approval of Congress to do so.
However, what we will continue to see is a hostility towards environmental issues. Gaetz’s bill may never be signed into law, but a Republican majority Congress can do everything in its power to defund the EPA.
Trump can pull out of the 2015 Paris Agreement and not defend the Clean Power Plan in court. Scott Pruitt may cut staffing levels and close regional offices to weaken the agency.
Their goal is to reduce the effectiveness of the agency through any possible legal means.
But, this isn’t new for environmental advocates. We will fight this in court and in our communities.
Local level politics is where a lot of action is taking place. Part of the fight is getting a seat on city council to make environmental issues a political priority.
We must continue to push forward strong environmental policy agendas in our cities. States can continue to make incremental progress through zero-emission vehicle mandates, brownfield redevelopment programs, green building codes, smart energy grids, renewable energy and LEED buildings and mass transit.
This is only the third week of the Trump presidency and fatigue is setting in. As environmental advocates, know that this is going to be a long-fought battle and we will get bruised along the way. But know that we’re doing this to protect regulations and policies that keep us safe and the earth habitable.
Call your representatives and senators, show up to demonstrations, support good science journalism and donate to organizations that are working to protect the planet. We need you to keep fighting back.
Congressional Republicans, and a handful of Democrats, voted to repeal the Stream Protection Rule aimed at preventing coal mining waste from being dumped in nearby streams. It was the first step for Republicans in dismantling Obama’s legacy on the environment and years of “excessive” government regulations.
The biggest argument for the joint resolution of disapproval was to save the jobs in the coal mining industry. As House Speaker Paul Ryan (R – WI) put it, “The stream protection rule is really just a thinly veiled attempt to wipe out coal mining jobs.”
Now the resolution is on its way to President Trump’s desk. This is a blow to environmentalists as the Congressional Review Act (CRA) prevents the executive branch from imposing similar rules by future administrations.
President Trump made coal a centerpiece of his campaign and promised to bring back coal mining jobs, but the truth is the coal industry is declining. Coal production in the U.S. has dropped to its lowest annual level of production since 1986 thanks to cheap natural gas and automation. China, formerly a major buyer of American coal, has also moved away from importing coal from the U.S.
Coal mining employs relatively few workers because it is highly mechanized. The government provides subsidies for renewable energy and has invested millions of dollars into fracking because natural gas is more abundant and cheaper than coal.
Additionally, air pollution and carbon emissions regulations has forced utility companies to ditch aging coal-fired power plants and switch to natural gas or green sources.
Arch Coal, Alpha Resources, Patriot Coal and Peabody Energy, the largest coal company in the U.S., all filed for bankruptcy in 2015 and 2016 because of an industry downturn. Even if environmental regulations were relaxed under the Trump administration, coal still would not be a sustainable industry.
Killing the Stream Protection Rule will not revitalize the coal industry. So why did Republicans vote to repeal the rule?
The simple answer is because the regulation is an easy target. It’s a way of flexing their muscles and showing strength now that Obama has left the White House.
Unfortunately, communities that rely on coal for employment work in an industry that’s not sustainable. We know what happens after coal mines close because it’s been happening for years. McDowell, W.Va. used to be the coal capital of the country, but is now the poorest county in the state.
McDowell has an unemployment rate that is twice the national average and a population that has decreased 38 percent in the past 20 years. One-third of residents live in poverty, and more than half of the households in the county have incomes below $25,000.
If politicians really want to help areas that are reliant on coal, they should invest in diversifying regional economies by bringing in industries like tourism and healthcare. Workers can be retrained to get jobs in agriculture, solar panel installation and sustainable construction, and earn degrees in nursing and information technology.
Coal will not save American jobs. Innovation and retraining our workers in sustainable industries will keep Americans employed.
We just put the health of our communities at more risk to save a dying industry.
On December 15, 2016, the Obama administration issued the Mercury Effluent Rule, the EPA’s final rule to address mercury discharge from dental offices into publicly owned treatment works (POTWs).
On January 20, 2017, only hours after taking office, the Trump administration issued a memo to federal agencies “immediately withdraw” final rules that were sent to the Office of the Federal Register but had yet to be published. On the following Monday, the EPA withdrew the Mercury Effluent Rule, but did so without giving public notice and an opportunity to comment – a requirement of repealing a final rule.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is suing the EPA for “illegally rescinding a rule that would protect the public from more than five tons of mercury discharges each year.”
Aaron Colangelo, litigation director at NRDC said, “The Trump White House ordered the EPA and other agencies to violate the law. That puts Americans at greater risk of exposure to this dangerous neurotoxin, which can do harm even in tiny amounts.”
Now, if you’re like me when visiting the dentist, you’re more concerned about if you have any cavities than what goes down the drain when the dentist tells you to “spit.” But dental clinics are the primary source of mercury discharges to POTWs.
It happens when new fillings are placed or drilled out. Dental offices may discharge the mercury-containing mixture into the chair-side drain which is then flushed into sewers that drain into POTWs. This frequently results in mercury partitioning into sludge - the solid material left over after wastewater is treated – which is then incinerated, sent to a landfill or used in the land application of sludge.
Approximately 5.1 tons of mercury each year makes its way into the environment from the dentist office.
The Mercury Effluent Rule requires for dental offices that discharge to POTWs to use an amalgam separator that captures mercury and other metals, and not discharge scrap amalgam. It is a practical and low-cost solution that is widely supported by dental providers
Mercury is a neurotoxin that can damage the nervous system and disrupt brain function depending on exposure and health of the person exposed. The EPA lists effects of overexposure to elemental mercury (from the air), methylmercury (from fish) and mercury compounds (industrial processes).
Mercury pollution is widespread and originates from diverse sources. The EPA expects compliance with the Mercury Effluent Rule will reduce 5.1 tons of mercury discharge and 5.3 tons of other metals in dental waste amalgams going to POTWs.
Environmental advocate. Communications professional. Sports fan. I love television and press conferences.